Community College Grows in Importance

Story by Noor Alahmadi, Editor in Chief

“In the next ten years, two out of three job openings will require a college degree,” Dr. Jill Biden told a crowd gathered to hear her speak at the South by Southwest Education summit.

The Second Lady of the United States gave the keynote address to a room full of college students, top educators and researchers. The summit aims to boost awareness on how schools can better help students get to graduation.

Not every college student today knows how to navigate his or her college options.

“I went to the University of Massachusetts in Boston with a scholarship that I had believed would cover tuition but it only covered two-thousand dollars with thirteen-thousand in hidden fees,” said Valerie Inniss, a student panelist. Innis said she ultimately left the school to transfer to the University of Massachusetts Amherst.

Had she known about all of the scholarship and advising and counseling options available to her at the University of Massachusetts in Boston, she said she would be in better financial shape and on a more clear-cut path to graduation.

Biden spoke on the heels of a panel discussion at the JW Marriott Hotel, during which students opened up about their own educational experiences. Some students echoed Innis in describing their own obstacles.

The focus and the energy of the panel changed when Dr. Jill Biden entered the stage and gave a speech on the importance of community college as a stepping stone for higher education.

In addition to stressing the importance of a college education, Biden expressed her love of teaching at community college. She is a community college teacher of 20 years and an educator of 30 years.

When asked about making community college more affordable and whether or not free community college would change the value of getting an education, Biden said, “ No, I think it would make us better as a nation. I am a true believer of community college and if we could make it free, that would be even better.”

During a Q and A session, Gavin Payne, director of the United States Program Advocacy and Communications for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, walked around the room, met students and facilitators and took questions.

“We have a challenge as a foundation. When someone says college, they think of a four-year institution but there are a lot of ways to get there and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation wants to make these paths more accessible to students.”

Some students say a stigma surrounds the idea of choosing community college over a four-year university. The Gates Foundation, Dr. Jill Biden and all of the speakers at the summit are working to make choosing community college a logical, attainable and appealing option to all students considering a higher education.